In a little coffee shop in one of the most dangerous places on earth, five very different women come together.
Sunny, the proud proprietor, who needs an ingenious plan – and fast – to keep her café and customers safe.
Yazmina, a young pregnant woman stolen from her remote village and now abandoned on Kabul’s violent streets.
Candace, a wealthy American who has finally left her husband for her Afghan lover, the enigmatic Wakil.
Isabel, a determined journalist with a secret that might keep her from the biggest story of her life.
And Halajan, the sixty-year-old den mother, whose long-hidden love affair breaks all the rules.
As these five women discover there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they form a unique bond that will for ever change their lives and the lives of many others.
Way back in the BC era (Before Covid, of course), I could often be found in a coffee shop on my days off. As a writer, I find coffee shops to be a great source of inspiration when it comes to conjuring up characters for my latest story. Be it a city centre chain coffee shop like Starbucks or a tiny independent place off the beaten track, coffee shops are the melting pots of society. They’re frequented by people from every walk of life, from business people grabbing their morning lattes to students sipping at mochas as they type away on their laptops. Coffee seems to unite people in a way that other beverages don’t. In short, I find coffee shops fascinating. My love for coffee shops means that I enjoy reading books that are either set in one or revolve around one, which is why I was looking forward to reading The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul when it was announced as the October read for a local book club.
I’m going to be honest, when I realised that three of the five central characters were either from the US or the UK, I inwardly cringed. I was worried that this was simply going to be a story about the ‘Western saviour’, or rather Western women ‘liberating’ Afghan women by enforcing their own values on them.
I was wrong, though. There’s a scene in which Candace is trying to encourage her friends to play matchmaker. When they remind her that Afghanistan has different customs when it comes relationships, she asks one of the coffee shop’s Afghan employees if he wants change in his country, if he wants it to be more modern and tolerant. The employee replies that yes, he does want to see change, but he wants that change to be “from the inside out”, that he wants Afghans to change Afghanistan. He then goes on to state that he’s tired of everyone (ie. Westerners) treating Afghans like babies that can’t figure things out for themselves. In another scene, one American character notes that Americans infantilise everyone not like them. It was refreshing to read passages like this. It was refreshing to read a book about Afghanistan that doesn’t paint its Afghan characters as people in need of ‘enlightenment’.
Before The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, I hadn’t read any novels set in Afghanistan. I don’t know much about the country either, save for what I’ve seen in news reports about its people’s ongoing struggle against the Taliban. I know that the Taliban isn’t what defines Afghanistan, though. It’s a culturally and historically rich place and I’m glad that I could experience some of it vicariously through Deborah Rodriguez’s evocative writing. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is many things, but if I were to sum it up in three words, I’d say that it’s heart-warming, heart-breaking and thought-provoking.
Have you read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul? Let me know in the comments.
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